Dubois, Raphael-Horace

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(b. Mans, France, 20 June 1849; d. Tamaris-sur-Mer, France, 21 January 1929)


Dubois began his medical education at the medical school of Tours, where he was also demonstrator in botany and chemistry in 1868 and 1869. After serving in the army in the Franco-Prussian War, he returned to study in Paris. He submitted his M.D. thesis in 1876. In 1982 Dubois became préparateur for the course in physiology taught at the Sorbonne by Paul Bert and by Albert Dastre. From 1883 to 1886 he was deputy director of the laboratory of physiological optics at the Sorbonne. Dubois took his doctorate in science in 1886. and in February 1887 was elected professor of general and comparative physiology in the Faculty of Sciences at Lyons. He was also director of the marine biology station of Lyons University at Tamaris-sur-Mer.

As a physiologist Dubois’s interests were very wide, and he studied a variety of animal types, both vertebrate and invertebrate. He is best remembered for his pioneering studies on hibernation and, especially, for his work on bioluminescence. Henri Regnault and Jules Reiset had previously worked on hibernation, but Dubois made exhaustive studies on the hibernating marmot, measuring rates of metabolism, respirators’ changes, temperature, and partial pressure of blood gases. His work led him to believe that the onset of hibernation was due to the accumulation of a fixed amount of CO2 in the blood.

In 1884 Dubois began work on the bioluminescence of the brilliant tropical firefly Pyrophorus. Before his investigations the study of bioluminescence had had a somewhat checkered history. Robert Boyle had demonstrated in 1667 that glowworms cease to emit light when placed in a vacuum and that the glow will return in air. Rudolf A. van Koelliker and Franz von Leydig had studied the fine structure of the luminous organs of the glowworm in 1857. and Louis Pasteur (1864) and E. Ray Lankester (1870) were interested enough in bioluminescence to measure the spectra of the emitted light. It was Dubois, however, who placed the chemical investigation of luminescence on a firm foundation. He disproved the early view that phosphorus placed a part in luminescence, and replaced it with evidence that the process was connected with enzyme oxidation of a specific biochemical compound, which he named luciferin. He established the luciferin-luciferase system in the elaterid beetle Pyrophorus and in the bioluminescent mollusk Pholas dactylus. His detailed work was summarized in two works published in 1886 and (on the mollusk) in 1892. A more popular account of his discoveries. La vie et la lumiére, was published in 1914, the year of his retirement. After World War I and in his later years, Dubois, like many of his generation, became concerned with the nature of aggression and war. He published several books on these subjects and advocated pacifism.


I. Original Works. Among Dubois’s scientific works are “Note sur la physiologie des pyrophores,” in Comptes rendus de la Société biologique, 8th ser., 1 (1884), 661–664, and 2 (1885), 559–562; “Les elaterides lumineaux,” in Bulletin de la Société zoologique de France, 11 (1886) 1–275; “Sur la production de la lumière chez le Pholas dactylus,” in Comptes rendus de la Société biologique, 40 (1889), 451–453, and 41 (1890), 611–614; “Anatomie et physiologie compariées de la Pholade dactyle,” in Annales de I’Université de Lyon, fasc. 2, pt. (1892): “Étude sur le mécanisme de la thermogenése et du sommeil chez les mammifères,” ibid., fasc. 25, (1896); “Contribution à I’étude des perles fines de la nacre et des animaux qui les produisent,” ibid., fasc, 29 (1899); “Production de la lumière et des radiations chimique par les étres vivants,” in Lecons de physiologie générate et comparée, II (Paris. 1898). 301–528: and La vie et la lumiére (Paris, 1914). For his views on war see his Les origines naturelles de la guerre: Influences cosmiques et théorie anticinétique (Lyons, 1916).

II. Secondary Literature. There is a short note on Dubois by S. Le Tourneur in Dictionnaire de biographie française, 970–971. See also H. Cardot, “Apercu sur I’evolution de ta physiologie et sur I’oeuvre des physiologistes lyonnais,” in Revue scientifique, 66 (1928), 1–9, esp. 6–7.

Neil Davies Morgan